All the Other Harvey Weinsteins
October 17, 2017
I have had plenty of Harvey Weinsteins of my own over the years, enough to feel a sickening shock of recognition.Photograph by The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty
The tale of Harvey Weinstein is now a thread that has tangled its way through Hollywood, connecting women, mostly actresses, in a depressingly common way. We all seem to have a Harvey story, each one a little different but with essentially the same nauseating pattern and theme. Women were bullied, cajoled, manipulated, and worse, and then punished.
My Harvey story is different, mostly because of timing. I was in one of the first films that Weinstein produced. I accepted a supporting role in a small movie based on “Loser Takes All,” the short novel by Graham Greene. I was twenty years old. The idea of playing a supporting role in a small British movie appealed to me after having just made a big splash in the John Hughes movies. Plus, I was an enormous fan of Greene’s writing. When we began filming, in France, I was warned about the producer, but I had never heard of him and had no reason to fear him. The feeling on the set was that he and his brother Bob were becoming powerful and were difficult to work with, and that it was inadvisable to cross them. During a dinner at the Chèvre d’Or, in a tiny medieval village, there was a tense, awkward moment when Harvey became testy toward our British co-workers and accused them of thinking of us Americans as just the “little guys in the colonies.” It was sort of meant as a joke, I suppose, but it made everyone cringe, and all I could think was that the guy was volatile.
Thankfully, I wasn’t cajoled into a taxi, nor did I have to turn down giving or getting a massage. I was lucky. Or perhaps it was because, at that moment in time, I was the one with more power. “The English Patient,” Weinstein’s first Best Picture winner, was still a few years away. The worst I had to contend with was performing new pages that Harvey had someone else write, which were not in the script; my co-star, Robert Lindsay, and I had signed off to do a film adapted and directed by one person, and then were essentially asked to turn our backs on him and film scenes that were not what we had agreed to. We hadn’t even finished filming, and the movie was already being taken away from the director.
After that, the film was completely taken away, recut, and retitled. Weinstein named it “Strike It Rich,” because he insisted that Americans couldn’t stand to have the word “loser” in a title. He also changed the poster: he had my head stuck onto another body, dressed in a form-fitting, nineteen-fifties-pinup-style dress, with a hand reaching out to accept a diamond, like Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” I wouldn’t have posed for a picture like that, since it had nothing to do with the character I portrayed; it struck me as ridiculous false advertising. (I was always a little mystified that Harvey had a reputation as a great tastemaker when he seemed so noticeably lacking in taste himself. But he did have a knack for hiring people who had it, and I figured that’s what passes for taste in Hollywood.) In any case, the film tanked. I had a percentage of the gross, and, as it turned out, you still make money if you have a gross percentage. I found this out about a year later, when my lawyer called to tell me that I had been denied the percentage owed to me. She asked if it was O.K. if she went after the Weinsteins. I ended up suing them for the money, which I got, and I never worked with Harvey or the company again.
While my own Harvey story may be different, I have had plenty of Harveys of my own over the years, enough to feel a sickening shock of recognition. When I was thirteen, a fifty-year-old crew member told me that he would teach me to dance, and then proceeded to push against me with an erection. When I was fourteen, a married film director stuck his tongue in my mouth on set. At a time when I was trying to figure out what it meant to become a sexually viable young woman, at every turn some older guy tried to help speed up the process. And all this went on despite my having very protective parents who did their best to shield me. I shudder to think of what would have happened had I not had them.
In my twenties, I was blindsided during an audition when I was asked by the director, in a somewhat rhetorical manner, to let the lead actor put a dog collar around my neck. This was not remotely in the pages I had studied; I could not even fathom how it made sense in the story. The actor was a friend of mine, and I looked in his eyes with panic. He looked back at me with an “I’m really sorry” expression on his face as his hands reached out toward my neck. I don’t know if the collar ever made it on me, because that’s the closest I’ve had to an out-of-body experience. I’d like to think that I just walked out, but, more than likely, there’s an old VHS tape, disintegrating in a drawer somewhere, of me trying to remember lines with a dog collar around my neck in front of a young man I once had a crush on. I sobbed in the parking lot and, when I got home and called my agent to tell him what happened, he laughed and said, “Well, I guess that’s one for the memoirs. . . .” I fired him and moved to Paris not long after.
After I moved to Paris, I put my career on the back burner, but I came back to the U.S. occasionally to work. The magazine Movieline decided to feature me on its cover, I guess because anyone who leaves Hollywood after having success seems intriguing on some level. In that article, the head of a major studio—and, incidentally, someone who claims himself to be horrified by the Harvey allegations—was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t know [Molly Ringwald] if she sat on my face.” I was twenty-four at the time. Maybe he was misquoted. If he ever sent a note of apology, it must have gotten lost in the mail.
I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather. Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.
My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care. I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.
Molly Ringwald is an actress, author, and singer. She lives with her family in New York.